breastfeeding-norwegian
Ink drawing of “Fangen Moder” by Einar Wullum, Trondheim, Norway (1901)

Everyone knows that breastfeeding is best for the baby.  In the first weeks of breastfeeding important antibodies from the mother are transferred to the baby to give them a good start in life.  Breastfeeding can also help mother lose those extra pounds she put on while pregnant.  Unfortunately, living in a breastfeeding country such as Norway (where women breastfeed in cafes and at the shops openly), midwives don’t understand how a woman cannot breastfeed.

As mentioned in a previous post, this time around I had decided not to breastfeed from the get-go.  I have had three babies already, each with the full intention of breastfeeding, but it never turned out:

  • My first couldn’t latch on properly because of a set back jaw due to birth complications.
  • With my second I had an epidural migraine for two weeks – (the anaesthetist was a beginner and pierced the fatty tissue around my spine twice!  But third time lucky.)
  • For my third, which was in Norway, I was very determined to breastfeed, however, it was very painful.  I was encouraged to breast pump often to build up my milk supply.  This was, of course, painful as well since I was now bleeding and my breasts couldn’t heal in time before each feed.  I got so used to the breast pump pain that one time I didn’t realise I was pumping blood into the bottle rather than milk.  Yikes!  That was when I decided to bottle-feed.  (Bottle-feeding took all the pressure away, Lilu was eating, and I could finally enjoy my days with my newborn.)

This time around (for my fourth) my midwife asked me about breastfeeding at my control check.  I told her I can’t breastfeed and plan to bottle-feed.   She raised her eyebrows and I knew she didn’t believe me.  Then she made every effort to change my mind and booked me into the maternity clinic after birth for breastfeeding assistance.  My heart sank.  This is not what I wanted.  This time I wanted to enjoy my newborn without all the trauma of breastfeeding.

Norwegians are very bad at presuming things.  I guess the midwife just saw that I had always tried to breastfeed, so she thought I wanted to breastfeed but had just given up.  Unfortunately these Norwegian ‘good intentions’ don’t listen to what you are actually saying.  Deciding not to breastfeed was a decision – meaning thought, discussions with Moose, reflection and projection had all taken place before the decision was made.  I left my control with dreaded anticipation of what was to come.  The first two times I didn’t breastfeed was in Australia and I never had any pressure or felt like a failure.  Then why in Norway…?

nobottle

Just the other day Moose read a newspaper article about a Norwegian woman, Margrethe Vik, on a mission to make the choice of bottle-feeding available.  It’s not that she was saying breastfeeding was bad – on the contrary, she was supporting breastfeeding wholeheartedly.  But what she was saying was that in Norway the pressure to breastfeed is so intense that midwives do not help women who bottle-feed with information and guidance.  Norwegian midwives need to accept that there are some women who can’t breastfeed or who choose not to breastfeed – and they shouldn’t be penalised for that.  Margrethe’s argument is that the ‘choice’ of women should be valued and accepted, even if they choose to bottle-feed.  This discovery was wonderful to me.  I think mainly because a Norwegian had recognised the problem and was fighting to dissolve it.  As there is no information (or very little) from health centres, maternity clinics or birthing websites about bottle-feeding in Norway, Margrethe has developed a not-for-profit website to share information about bottle-feeding as well as breastfeeding. The website is still new (and is in Norwegian) but if you’d like to get involved and support the cause they have a list of things that you can do.  The website: www.flaskeposten.org

The Breastfeeding-Childcare Paradox

The Norwegian healthcare system is set on breastfeeding.  It is generally thought that breastfeeding brings mother and baby closer.  Mothers are expected to stay home with the baby for the first year and fathers are also granted a paternity leave from work so they can also have special time to bond with their baby.  Then why is it so shocking in Norway for a Norwegian to hear that my ‘occupation’ is a stay-at-home mum?

Work and job description is always a topic at new pregnancy controls.  Medical personnel need to fill out your chart with your details and discuss maternity leave etc.  For my situation now, my usual response when asked what I do is: I’m an arts practitioner but currently I’m a ‘stay-at-home’ mum.  A couple of times I have been asked ‘so you aren’t returning to work?’  No, I’m a stay-at-home mum.   Norwegians are always confused by my answer.  It seems like choosing to be a stay-at-home mum isn’t heard of in Norway – or at least not accepted as reasonable.  In fact, it is generally accepted that Norwegians put their kids into full-time childcare by three years of age.  It is also expected that both parents return to work after a year.  In fact the government makes it financially hard on families who don’t put their kids into childcare for both parents to work full-time.  If the Norwegian way is to put their kids into childcare so eagerly, what is all the big fuss about bonding through breastfeeding when they are so keen to give their child away?

My personal opinion is: I have had kids so I can experience the love and joy of raising them myself – why would you have kids in the first place if you are just going to pay for someone else to look after them?  Now, of course I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t put their kids into childcare to work – but what I am saying is that we should have the freedom to choose – working parent or stay-at-home-parent.

I must admit I was a little shocked when a midwife at Lilu’s control check asked why she wasn’t going to childcare yet.  (Lilu is only 18 months.)  There are whispers in the wind as to why Norway has this point of view:

Some say it is because Norway has turned into a segregated society where family isn’t important.  It is not custom any more for grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins to be prominent in Norwegian family units.  Family units keep to themselves and are happy with distant family ties.

Some say that Norway is a socialist country which means the government wants to raise all children into adulthood.  They can only do that by institutionalisation.  If they make it hard for parents to live on one income then they may frustrate the ‘option’ for parents to stay at home to raise their own kids.  Parents will have to put their kids into childcare and have them raised with government ideals.

Some say Norway is such a feminist country that staying at home to look after children is taking away the independence of women.  Women have the right to work – and so they should!  Staying at home is seen as oppression in Norway (it doesn’t matter if the woman has chosen to stay at home herself) and so the government and community puts pressure on women to get out in society and be liberated from ‘women’s work’.  In fact, there is so much pressure it seems like women are better off being men.  This pressure is mainly because Norway has a reputation to maintain.  Being a leader in Europe for women’s rights can be tough work – they will make women ‘liberated’ even if they have to force them!

And some people say Norwegians are quick to put their kids in childcare so they can work to maintain their lifestyle.  International holidays, mopeds for teenagers, all the latest ski equipment, hi-tech gadets, BMWs or Audis, holiday cabins, snowmobiles and the latest fashions are apparently all part of a ‘normal’ Norwegian life.  Keeping up with the ‘Hanssens’ is running rampant in this country.  I don’t understand how to live such a life.

This paradox between the importance of bonding with your child through breastfeeding and quickly giving your child up to the paid care of childcare centres makes it very hard to figure out what Norwegian values are. Being an immigrant I am meant to ‘assimilate’ into society but I’m not sure if I want this piece of the pie. 

Related posts: